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Cottage Grove Town, Dane County, Wisconsin

The Town of Cottage Grove is one of 61 towns, villages and cities within Dane County, the county that surrounds Madison, Wisconsin. The Town lies just ten miles east of downtown Madison. The Town encompasses the Village of Cottage Grove. Although the Town’s population is only 3,839 (2000), it lies directly in the path of growth since Madison is within easy commuting distance. Nevertheless, like much of Dane County, the Town of Cottage Grove is still consists mainly of farmland, wetlands and other rural uses.

In 1982, the town established Exclusive Agriculture Zoning, with a maximum density of one unit per 35 acres (subject to the exceptions explained below.) In 2000, the Town established a TDR policy designed to encourage the preservation of farmland and also allow farmers the ability to liquidate the development value of their land while still continuing to own the land and receive income from agricultural activities. In addition to farmland preservation, the TDR program is intended to concentrate development near the Village of Cottage Grove and other existing subdivisions as well as maintain a community separator around the Village of Cottage Grove.

The sending areas are properties with the general plan designation of Agriculture or Open Space/Park. Together, these two designations cover roughly one third of the Town’s land area. The Agriculture designation includes most of the eastern half of the Town, furthest away from Madison. The Town’s Land Use Plan Map shows the Open Space/Community Separator designation to the east and west of the Village of Cottage Grove with the largest block between the Village and the Madison City Limits.

The TDR program added new features to a Residential Dwell Unit (RDU) system that was established in 1981. The Town has both non-transferable and transferable RDUs. Landowners who owned their property continuously since 1981 can be granted an additional RDU which is not transferable but can only be used for the purpose of creating a lot to allow the sale of a residence and the creation of an agricultural parcel. In addition, one transferable RDU can be created for each 35 acres of land in the sending areas. For example, someone who owned a 75-acre parcel with one existing residence continuously since 1981 is entitled to four RDUs: one RDU for the agricultural parcel, one non-transferable RDU entitling the lot with the residence and two transferable RDUs. This owner can decide to use these two transferable RDUs on site or transfer them to a receiving area. If the landowner elects to use all RDUs on site, the new parcels cannot exceed two acres in size except parcels containing a farm residence and/or farm buildings that preceded the plan can be as large as 10 acres.

The TDR receiving areas are parcels with a general plan designation of Conservation Residential, Medium Density Residential and High Density Residential. Different transfer ratios are used to encourage transfers from rural to urban areas. One transferable RDU from an Agricultural or Open Space/Park sending area allows two RDUs in a Conservation Residential, three RDUs in a Medium Density Residential and four RDUs in a High Density Residential receiving area.

In the Conservation Residential District, all developments with four or more lots must comply with the requirements for this district, including the permanent preservation of at least 70 percent of the parcel.

Pilot Program

During a Pilot Program phase conducted in 2000-2001, TDRs were transferred from two sending sites. Both of theses sites were zoned A-1 EX and designated in the Town’s Master Plan as important for long term agriculture and, consequently, appropriate as TDR sending areas. The receiving area for the Pilot Program was a 20-acre parcel zoned RH1 located east of the Village of Cottage Grove. A two-to-one transfer ratio was used.

Cottage Grove’s TDR program encourages the preservation of farmland like this “pick-your-own” orchard.